First posted on Introibo ad altare Dei 22 November 2006
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Although in contemporary times it's associated with the Puritans in Massachusetts, every true daughter of the Commonwealth of Virginia (my wife, for example, falls into this category) knows that the real First Thanksgiving was in 1619 in Charles City County, Virginia. My wife has numerous elderly aunties who have the family lineages drawn out on old, yellowed folded up pieces of paper; family trees which date back to the 1600's. They know this stuff. One of my wife's ancestors was the notorious William Claiborne, a wheel in the Protestant colony of Virginia in the mid 1600's. Old Bill didn't think much of Papists, and he enjoyed attacking the neighboring, Catholic colony of Maryland and hauling off the Jesuit priests to England in chains. Other people in my wife's bloodline fought in the Revolutionary War, as well as the War of Northern Aggression. A few of those individuals actually spent time in damyankee prison camps, but I digress. The plot of land where the real first Thanksgiving was held later became Berkley Plantation, right across the river from another plot of land which became Maycock, the plantation of my wife's ancestors. Alas, both were burned by those same damyankees in the Late Misunderstanding, they carted off all the furniture, and now the homestead is a park or something. My wife married a mongrel of uncertain lineage, we live in a housing tract, and our children are Papists, in the Old Rite, no less. One can only imagine what Old Bill thinks. Which brings us to Thanksgiving, 2006.
Today, Thanksgiving is an amorphous day in an historically Protestant nation which no longer believes in God. For many people it involves traffic jams and long lines in airports; it did for me for much of my adult life, until my own family became of a size that I finally said, "They can come to us on Thanksgiving if they want, but we're staying right here". The people of our Nation believe, on this day, that we should give thanks to someone (or, perhaps, something) for the blessings we unarguably enjoy. Perhaps this is an outgrowth of Alexis de Toqueville's American exceptionalism, the notion that America is a unique entity in the history of the world. Regardless, I want it to be clear to whom I am thankful. I am thankful to God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. For what am I thankful?
First and foremost, I am thankful to Him for my creation. Without that, this would be a very short essay. I am thankful to Him for His sacrifice for me, upon the Cross, that I, inconsequential and miserable sinner that I am, might nevertheless have the hope of eternal salvation. I am thankful for the re-presentation of this sacrifice at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that I might have the courage to persevere unto death. I am thankful for His True Presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist, and in the tabernacles of the world, that I might eat His Precious Body in the hope of eternal salvation. I am thankful for the Sacrament of Penance, that He would provide for me the opportunity for forgiveness for those sins, habitual and sporadic, into which I in my weakness continually fall. And I am thankful for His Grace, that I might work out my salvation with fear and trembling.
I am thankful for my family, something which as I approach the latter part of middle age I never thought I would have. I am thankful for my blessed wife, who had the courage to marry me, and had the courage to convert to a Faith which was as alien to her as it was to me. I am thankful that she had the courage to choose the more difficult path of staying home to raise and school our snotty nosed children in that same Faith. Because of this, we do not need to stand in line for days to obtain a Playstation Three and, in fact, don't even have a Playstation One. Instead, because of my blessed wife, our children read, and sometimes, miraculously, they even read to each other. I am thankful for those children, even when I am hollering at them. In them I see hope for a future, when otherwise that future would seem very dim indeed. For they are souls, created by God, and entrusted to me. These little souls will live for all eternity, and where they will spend eternity will be influenced, in a very large part, by how well I discharge my sure and certain obligation to raise them in the Faith. I am, in a very real way, responsible for raising these little souls rightly, and that is a profound responsibility given to me by God. I do not deserve it, I am not worthy of it, but I am thankful for it. It keeps me honest.
Finally, I am thankful for living in this land. Today, de Toquevilles' American exceptionalism is a fluid term, and means many different things to many different people. Suffice it to say that America is unique. That does not mean, however, that I think America is somehow immune from being judged the same way by God as every other nation in history. If anything, our judgment may be all the more severe, because our blessings have been so very great. I truly fear for the future for our Nation; specifically, I fear God's judgment upon our land. God has blessed this land, and we, in turn, thumb our noses at Him, more rudely every day. How long will God strive with us? I do not know. But I pray for this land that I love, that we will turn to Him. And, I give thanks for the blessings He has given me.